Literacy was power, and those who could read and write were able to hold political office, interpret legal documents, participate more readily in the marketplace, and stay informed of news from beyond the valley. Periodical subscriptions in the valley were limited to an elite audience, and the “nonsubscribing masses” were therefore dependent on these elites for information, which they controlled.
Men wrote more than women, partly because they were responsible for laws and most business decisions. Men were also the primary writers of private correspondence. Important men were recognized and expected to be identified by their penmanship.
Augusta County’s Hezekiah Goodrich, for example, in letter to the Rockingham County Clerk from December 6, 1822, wrote that he need not make a trip to give consent for his daughter to marry. Instead, he wrote that the clerk “surely would be safe enough to act on my former written permission, when my hand-writing is so very well known in Harrisonburg.”